It???s teacher bashing time

Image © Rob Gould @ Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

As snow falls across the country, schools have closed for a variety of reasons.  Frustrated parents are quick to blame the teachers (we all need a scapegoat) and discussion forums fill up with comments about lazy teachers.  Too soon the conversation changes from “why can’t they get to school?” to don’t they have enough holidays already.  I’ve even seen suggestions about teachers having inset days in their holidays (which is ironic since inset days did originally come out of teachers holidays).The press feel the need to join in with this teacher bashing, after all appealing to the public sentiment is what sells papers.  As I sat reading the Times today I read an article that made the hairs on the back of my neck bristle.  Not because of the subject of the article but the tone, and the glaring inaccuracies in the article that the times included.The article in question was a small ‘filler’ by their education correspondent Nicola Woolcock.  I managed to track down an online copy of the article here.  Apparently it is far too hard to dismiss incompetent teachers and so-called experts suggest that there could be 24,000 inadequate teachers, although Ms Woolcock declines to say which hat she pulled these figures out of.According to the article heads must give notice before entering the classroom for a formal observation, and can only do so for three times a year.  Of course Ms Woolcock is reporting the current agreed arrangements for performance management, many observations for which are not actually carried out by head teachers.  There is no limit on quality assurance observations which I am aware of, and I know of many heads who walk around schools and pop into lessons to see what is going on without giving notice.Of course there are teachers who experience difficulties.  One of my roles as an AST is to work with some of these teachers in my local authority.  It could be argued that it is difficult to sack incompetent teachers, although I suggest the true story should read it is far too hard to dismiss any incompetent public sector worker.However when I read I was struck by the lack of balance, and the emphasis on bashing teachers rather than on a balance discussion, but a balanced discussion doesn’t sell newspapers does it?

The last ten years ??? where did they go?

Where have the last ten years gone? I remember so clearly the Millennium Street party at my mum’s house, and the turn of the century. It’s hard to believe that the last ten years have passed so quickly! 10 years ago I was single, bouncing from relationship to relationship but now I’ve been in a long-term relationship with my partner for over 9 years. In that time we’ve travelled the world together (well selected parts!), we’ve bought a house together, become proud uncles.

Some things that probably should have changed haven’t. I still aspire to lose some weight (I manage it, then put it back on).  I still don’t read enough books, I watch too much television, I spend too long on the Internet, although it’s hard to believe my internet bill 10 years ago was around £70 a month!

I still work in the same school (although at more than double the salary I started there on) and am still doing a job I love, with a very special and unique group of people.  I’ve rediscovered a love of science teaching since becoming an AST, and this role has allowed me to work with a wide range of professionals from schools across my local authority (and beyond).

What for the next 10 years?

I don’t want to think about the end of the next decade – I’ll be 48 which seems so scary now! Hopefully I’ll be mortgage free, but will I be working full time or part time? That depends on the current educational climate, but with teacher bashing and identical educational policies on both sides of the political fence, the future doesn’t look rosy for teachers!

I know I should move on professionally, but I don’t need more money and there’s a lot to be said for doing a job you like.  I work in a fantastic school with an excellent head who trusts his staff to do the job he asks of them.  Staff have a lot of freedom to get on with their job and innovate, and yet we are a good school with outstanding aspects.  Working in this kind of environment combined with weekly visits into other (usually mainstream) schools puts me off a change in workplace.  I also know that a move up would mean a change in my educational priorities and I wouldn’t be able to focus as much on teaching science, which is the reason I love my job.  I suspect I wouldn’t have as much time to share my ideas and resources with science educators around the world.

Maybe I’ll dust off my NPQH and rejoin the school leadership game, but that would require a change in education culture and I don’t see that happening in the next 10 years.

As for myself, I’d like to see more of the world, but the most important things are to have my health, my friends, my family. I’m ready whatever the next decade brings, your life is what you make it.

Happy New Year everyone!


(Originally posted on Tumblr)

Should we routinely expect bad service from cheap tech suppliers like EBuyer?


I placed an order with Ebuyer.  I’ve used them before because they are cheap and service has never been a problem.  I decided to use them for an urgent order – I only had a one day window for delivery but they had never let me down before.  I paid their premium for next day delivery, and all the items on the list showed as allocated so I assumed the order was on track.


I waited in the next day, and started to become concerned by lunchtime that my order hadn’t arrived.  I checked the order status page and it told me that my items had been allocated, to be delivered by today (the delivery date).


I contacted E-buyer and it turns out that one of the items was out of stock despite being shown as allocated.  I had not received an email or message anywhere that would let me know that E-buyer had failed to meet the delivery schedule (agreed when the order was placed).  Had I not have contacted them myself I would have been totally unaware that my order was not proceeding as it should.


I have posted below the response I received from E-buyer.  It shows a distinct lack of accountability or responsibility for the order problems and only a passing apology for messing me about and causing me to waste a day waiting in for their delivery.


I can only advise others to proceed very carefully if they place an order with E-Buyer that they need urgently.  Clearly E-buyer have issues with their system that need to be fixed (like notifying would be buyers that their items are out of stock).  Caveat emptor!


Final word from Ebuyer

Thank you for your response.
We have developed a suite of Order Management Tools that are unique and provide you with the ability to manage your order right up to the day before delivery.
Our intent was to provide you with as much information up front to avoid confusion on how your order would be fulfilled and within what timeframe.
We wanted to make sure that the tools worked in an intuitive and
informative way to online buyers so that you knew exactly where you were every step of the way.
Upon selecting an order from the Orders screen you will be in the ‘View Order’ section. This screen will give you the overview of the order, detailing billing and shipping addresses, the order line status and price and your overall order status.
The ‘Order Progress’ tab shows you a graphical image of your order progress making it simple to understand where each part of the order is every step of the way. If a block is green then your order has passed that status successfully, if it is red then your order will need some attention from you. Each block will offer information on each status with text to explain exactly what status your order has reached.
I apologise however for any inconvenience or annoyance caused and can confirm that the order is cancelled.


Have you had a similar experience with an online company?  Should we accept poor service as the price we pay for cheap goods?   Personally I think it is possible to have both but very few companies seem to be there yet!

The Wingate Centre


I’ve just returned from a fantastic week at the Wingate Centre. Situated in South Cheshire the centre provides residential accommodation for children who have special needs. They also have a very well equipped gymnasium. I have nothing but praise for the staff of the centre – they were all extremely helpful and their friendly & helpful manner added to the experience.

As well as making use of the gym and grounds (including an excellent park, space to play football and even a sensory room) we used the centre as a base to reach Chester Zoo (highly recommended), to visit a local candle making centre and the Blue Planet. The children we took all thoroughly enjoyed the residential and I would have no hesitation in recommending the Wingate centre to anyone who organises residentials for children with SEN.

My impressions of Beijing School for the Blind

This is the unabridged version of an article I co-wrote for the SSAT Inet newsletter with my headteacher. I know it’s a bit wordy but it was hard to cut down and not lose what I wanted to say.

Martin Sutton on visiting the I-Net conference Sept 2007
Rob and I arrived at the lavishly appointed China World Hotel just before midnight on the Sunday before the I-Net Conference and had our first introduction to the wonderful hospitality that we received throughout the conference week.
The presentations, seminars and workshops were of a high quality and the opportunity to listen to and speak with internationally recognised experts and practitioners was invaluable. The mix of delegates from over a dozen countries proved stimulating and the experience enabled me to look at my own school with a fresh perspective.
The rigour of the conference was balanced with opportunities to tour a part of the Great Wall, Forbidden City, Temple of Heaven and Tiananmen Square. Just as interesting, if less organised was the life on the streets around our hotel; the restaurants, shops and the Silk Market.
Our Chinese hosts were keen to show us the best of their provision. I was quite ignorant of the Chinese system of education before the conference and did not know really what to expect. My impressions were almost entirely favourable. The schools we visited appear to benefit from very healthy investment… Teaching staff are hardworking, talented and committed. The pupils and students were universally polite and welcoming and thoroughly enjoyed their opportunities to show their work and their school demonstrating enormous pride in their system. Language was not a barrier; teachers and pupils alike were eager to speak English with us.
On the morning of the first day we met other delegates and some colleagues from a special education background including Professor Barry Carpenter. With Barry’s help Rob and I were able to fit in a visit for a day to the Beijing School for the Blind. My impression of this school is of a highly organised well managed and well resourced school which supports the education of visually impaired young people and also youngsters with other special educational needs including autism and communication difficulties. We were particularly impressed with the commercial opportunities afforded to pupils by the school’s vocational initiatives for older pupils. Rob and I came away from school feeling impressed with the school’s commitment to CPD and feeling very much that our school would benefit immensely from a link with Beijing School for the Blind.
We decided that Rob and another colleague Margaret Stonier our MFL teacher should visit Beijing in April 2008with ssatrust in order to share awareness of the Chinese education and to further our aim of developing CPD and curriculum links with Beijing School for the Blind.

Rob Butler on returning to Beijing in April 2008
When I arrived at Beijing International Airport I was reminded how quick the rate of change is in China. We passed speedily and efficiently through the new terminal 3 building (including a ride on the monorail) which opened in February of this year. As we were driven to our hotel passing the familiar landmarks on the way into Beijing centre, it felt as though I was on the way to visit an old friend. Our scheduled tour of the Hutongs not far from Tiananmen square serves to remind of how far China has come in a relatively short time. The old narrow streets, lined by traditional dwellings around a courtyard, are in marked contrast to the towers and office blocks that dominate the skyline of Beijing. The friendliness and openness of the Chinese people also becomes apparent when you get the opportunity to share their culture with you.
The first full day in Beijing was to be our visit to Beijing School for the Blind. We did eventually make it to the school – traffic in Beijing has to be seen to be believed and the rain only added to the plight of the city’s drivers. We arrived at the school and were immediately made very welcome and, as is tradition, given Chinese tea. The first thing I noticed was how the school seemed so much more “finished” than last time I visited. Although the school is still in the middle of a major rebuilding project the staff had worked hard to make sure the pupils were settled and it showed.
The school had made efforts to accommodate our requests and we were taken to an infant class learning about pizza, tasting a variety of potential toppings and describing the tastes. What became immediately obvious was the similarity between the pupils of our two schools and the challenges faced by all teachers of children with special needs. The lesson was well staffed with a good pupil to teacher ratio and all pupils were engaged with the lesson. Our next lesson was a group of older pupils who had a range of visual impairments. We observed the teacher working with the pupils for a literature lesson. Pupils using their Braille typewriters and were able to enter text with amazing speed. The Braille text books were very thick but served as a good illustration of the investment the school has made in the support structures of the school. When the lesson had finished we were given the opportunity to interact with the class, who had many interesting questions to ask. Cultural differences became apparent in the questions the pupils asked, which all revolved around school and our pupils’ experiences of school. Perhaps the most fascinating part of the interaction was watching the faces of the pupils as my responses were translated. The questions of the pupils and their focus on education were in stark contrast to the priorities of English pupils. Mention of class visits to my house and some of the lessons resulted in gasps and rapid chattering between pupils. I had taken a selection of English sweets for the pupils to try. Tasting the Pontefract cakes led to some interesting expressions on their faces as did the sherbet lemons. The pupils were genuinely interested in what I had to say and thanked me for both my time and for fetching presents.
I wasn’t sure what to expect for lunch but the management of the school had made a huge effort to share with us some of their culture. We were taken to a private room in a restaurant that served authentic Beijing dishes. As well a selection of local dishes, we drank Chinese tea (to which I am now addicted) and toasted our future collaborations with Chinese wine. To a Westerner, one of the biggest differences between cuisines from the two cultures is bones. Smaller animals like fish and chicken are often cooked on the bone which can take a little getting used to. Beggar’s chicken and Squirrel fish were two of the more memorable dishes, both of which were bursting with flavour. Meal times in China are very social, with plenty of conversation and sharing of dishes – something we have lost over in the West.
Our visit to Beijing also gave us the opportunity to showcase our school and how we work with pupils. The courses we offer and the way we work with pupils were watched carefully but the photographs of the school prompted the staff to ask questions and probe the way we work. By the time we were showing the photographs of the sensory room the questions were in full flow. Staff were keen to learn how the multisensory equipment worked and how it would be used with pupils. The teachers were also keen to learn more about the TEACCH approach used with our special autistic group. The presentation concluded with video clips showing our pupils on a fund raising day for Sport Relief, and doing a science experiment for Healthy Eating Day. The staff were very interested in how we organised these days and were keen to replicate the process in their own school.
Day two at Beijing School for the Blind consisted of a tour of the vocational classes. We saw pupils taking an anatomy lesson (as a part of the massage courses) which was delivered using models and a data projector. The pupils were encouraged to work independently and were all able to identify parts of the heart by end of the lesson. We also saw massage classes where pupils were learning about the shoulder and techniques that could be used. Piano tuning is another course pioneered by the school and we were given the opportunity to see how the class learned their new trade. We were also shown the multiple needs group who were very similar in ability and behaviours to pupils in English specials schools. Lunchtime consisted of different local dishes in another restaurant but the atmosphere was much more relaxed with the staff treating us as friends rather than business colleagues. It was interesting that the staff raised the issue of Tibet and were very keen to make us understand the issues through their eyes. Speaking to the staff honestly and frankly made me realise that despite our difference, we are all the same underneath and have the same hopes and aspirations for our children. Whilst I appreciate that Chinese politics aren’t perfect, Western activists and campaigners who want to change the system would do well to visit China and spend some time talking to the people to find out how they feel about it. After lunch we visited the vocational site where some graduates from massage school are employed to provide massage to the public. An impressive range of techniques is offered and the quality of provision was evidenced by the number of members of the public in there.
The last day of school visits saw us visit another special school (with pupils of similar ability to our own) and a mainstream school – The Center School for the Mental Retarded in HaiDian District. The special school had been through a rebuilding programme and had a state of the art building to house its pupils. Seeing my second new build school made me realise the significance that the Chinese place in Education, in a city where space is scarce the new build schools have plenty of room relative to the high rise accommodation that surrounds them. The school well resourced and used a variety of techniques (such as rice play) that compare well to English special schools. Life skills were taught with facilities many English schools would be envious of, including a four lane road with crossing and traffic lights! As with Beijing School for the Blind, the dedication of the staff was one of lasting impressions I took away from the school.
The mainstream school made an interesting contrast to the two special schools, with much larger classes and a more academic and businesslike approach. The school we visited (Beijing no. 57 High School) hadn’t yet been rebuilt and so space was tighter than at other schools. One of the most striking sights was the number of bicycles in their sheds, which is a far greener alternative to the school run done by English parents in their petrol-guzzling cars. Many of the pupils were sitting mid-term exams so we didn’t get to see lessons, only a brief look at some Art, Music and Applied Science (flight simulator) lessons.
Perhaps the most important thing to take away from our visit is that despite the differences between our cultures, we are much more alike than first appearances would suggest. Only by regular contact and exchanges between our two countries can we unpick these differences and understand each other better.

Beijing School for the Blind


Our primary reason for visiting China was to establish a link with a Chinese School to share good practice and cultural information. Having visited Beijing School for the Blind on a previous visit, we had seen plenty that impressed us and areas that we could work together.

Beijing school for Blind takes in blind and partially-sighted children from their catchment area, having a pupil population of around 200. Beijing School for the Blind also has an impressive vocational programme, training their pupils to do Chinese Massage and piano tuning. The school is also doing some pioneering work providing mobility training for pupils, and providing tuition in a variety of subjects. Some of the pupils have multiple special needs, a common occurrence in UK special schools but less so in Chinese schools.

We were fortunate enough to see a range of classes and lessons, and to meet some of the pupils first hand. One thing that immediately struck us was the dedication and professionalism of the staff who truly are a credit to the school. We were made to feel very welcome by the staff and felt like old friends by the time we left.

I hope that as we work together, we can share some of the good practice that exists in both of our institutions and also put to rest some of the misconceptions that people in the UK have about China and the people that live there.

Hutongs of Beijing

Have spent a fascinating afternoon visiting first the Beijing Bell and Drum towers, then the hutongs of the area.

The Bell and Drum towers were ancient time keeping devices, so that workers could keep time before watches/timepieces were common. More information here.

The hutongs are narrow alleyways between lines of traditional courtyard residences. We toured the streets of these hutongs by pedal rickshaw (pedicab) – and stopped several times to visit the homes of Beijing residents who lived in some of these hutongs. As a preserved area, homes in the hutongs are highly sought after, especially with their historical connection to the Feng-Shui of the Ming dynasty. We saw several occupied hutongs, and were grateful to the Beijing citizens who allowed us into their homes.

Arrival in Beijing

We arrived safe and sound in Beijing after a pleasant journey. We were very privileged to have the use of the BA Club class lounge in Heathrow, and then to receive an upgrade to business class! If only I could always travel like this – a reclining seat that turns into a bed seems like an essential part of a long haul flight!

We arrived at the new Terminal 3 building, which only opened in February this year. Last time I came to Beijing I used the old terminal so using the new, shiny and extremely modern terminal (with monorail from arrivals to baggage claim) came as a surprise. Although I couldn’t take any pictures in the airport, this wikipedia entry shows terminal 3.

The pickup and transport to the airport was without incident and seemed relatively sedate by Beijing standards – perhaps that’s due to the rain. Did I mention it is raining here? Check out the picture from my hotel room window! I’m hoping the rain doesn’t spoil our Hutong tour booked in an hour.

Youtube for a nostalgia trip…

Don’t ask me why but when I was sat at my desktop pc I suddenly wondered if Youtube would have any of the favourite videos from when I was a teenager many years ago. Sure enough I found an amazing collection of Debbie Gibson videos including the one linked below. It also inspired me to find out what she was up to now – which led to her website and her myspace site.Unfortunately Youtube is blocked across my educational institutions across the UK, but it is a massive video archive of popular culture and well worth a look. Youtube isn’t just for silly clips recorded on mobile phones!

River Trent flooding under Harrington Bridge, Sawley

We’ve had lots of rain in the UK over the last few days. River levels have been getting higher and we’ve been a little concerned about the risk of flooding. Having not been able to see the extent of the flooding during daylight (I’m always at work!), I managed to see today how far the flood water extends. These are some of the photos I took with my phone. Full sized photos are in this gallery:

Trent flooding under Harrington Bridge